The CEOs of major social media companies, including Meta (formerly Facebook), TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter), testified before the U.S. Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday to address concerns about the impact of social media on young people. The hearing was prompted by increasing worries from parents and lawmakers about issues such as sexual predators, addictive features, suicide and eating disorders, unrealistic beauty standards, and bullying that young people face on these platforms. The session began with recorded testimonies from children and parents who shared their experiences of exploitation on social media, and parents who had lost children to suicide silently held up pictures of their deceased loved ones throughout the hearing.
During a tense exchange, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was challenged by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley about compensating victims and their families for the harm they had endured. Zuckerberg responded that he did not believe so. However, when prompted by Hawley to apologize to the families present at the hearing, Zuckerberg stood up, turned away from the microphone and senators, and directly addressed the families, offering his apologies and acknowledging the suffering they had endured. He also mentioned that Meta continues to invest in efforts to protect children.
Despite the CEOs' testimonies and claims of implementing safety tools and working with non-profits and law enforcement, child advocates argue that social media companies have repeatedly failed to adequately protect minors. Arturo Bejar, a former engineering director at Meta, expressed concerns about the company's approach to addressing these issues, calling it "gaslighting."
Both Republican and Democratic senators expressed agreement on the dangerous nature of social media platforms and the need for regulation. However, it remains uncertain if this consensus will lead to the passage of legislation aimed at protecting children online, such as the Kids Online Safety Act proposed in 2022.
Meta is currently facing lawsuits from multiple states, alleging that the company intentionally designs features that addict children and fails to protect them from online predators. Internal emails released by Sen. Richard Blumenthal's office reveal concerns among Meta executives about the impact of their products on youth mental health. Meta has recently announced enhancements to its child safety features, including hiding inappropriate content and implementing restrictions on minors' ability to receive messages from unknown individuals.
Notably, YouTube was not called to testify at the hearing, despite being the platform most commonly used by kids, according to Pew Research Center.